Climate negotiations: the last stop before Paris

As climate talks ahead of COP21 start in Bonn, Achala Abeysinghe says the draft on the table is not strong enough to address climate change, and identifies 11 ways in which it can be strengthened.

Blog by
19 October 2015

Achala C Abeysinghe is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change Group

The opening of the UN climate change talks in Bonn in June. The negotiators meet in Bonn again this week (Photo: UNClimatechange, Creative Commons via Flickr)

UN climate negotiators gather this week in Bonn for another five days of technical negotiations ahead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Paris (COP21). The Bonn negotiating session is the climax of the process, as its task is to build a firm base for Paris. It is the most challenging stage of the negotiation.

The co-chairs of the current negotiations have produced another version of the Geneva negotiating text. The main document is short, concise and readable, with a nine-page draft agreement text.

It is now, for the first time, called a draft "agreement" – and it may become the "Paris Agreement". Articles follow the UN treaty format. As the basis of negotiations for the upcoming session, the text needs to be strengthened much more. 

General assessment  

The effectiveness of the Paris outcome will be judged on the nature of the obligations within the legal agreement, the long-term planning and how well obligations are enforced.

The current draft documents are unbalanced and weak. Many of the elements that are supremely important for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are completely missing or poorly reflected. These missing elements need to be brought back and the weak provisions need to be strengthened.

Eleven ways to strengthen the text:

  1. The new agreement must enhance the implementation of the UN Framework Convention. The preamble to the draft agreement must maintain cross-cutting references to the particular vulnerabilities and specific needs of LDCs
  2. The objective article in the Paris Agreement must be strengthened by including a reference to a long-term temperature goal of below 1.5 degree of warming (as called for by LDCs and Small Island Developing Countries) and a clear greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pathway to achieve that target. The current text does not have a standalone option on the 1.5 degree target, though it is a key position for the LDCs. Further, the purpose of the agreement must be to increase resilience and reduce vulnerabilities of countries and communities. 
  3. The agreement must include provisions for clear obligations on mitigation. The LDCs have been calling for obligations to prepare, communicate, maintain, implement and fulfil nationally determined commitments. But the current text only proposes a commitment to communicate an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC). This is not enough. As parties' current levels of ambition set out in their INDCs are very low, the agreement must include a robust mechanism to ensure that parties raise their ambition rapidly over time to stay below the 1.5 degree target. This must include five-yearly successive mitigation commitments by all parties, an early process to assess each proposed target, a review process to determine the level of implementation to determine how far the parties have progressed in terms of achieving the long-term goal. Though there are references to five-year progressive commitments in the draft text, and there is a reference to a possible global stocktake, the language is weak and not enough to deliver necessary mitigation ambition rapidly over time. 
  4. Developed country parties must show leadership in their commitments while each party must adhere to principles of no-backsliding from their previous commitments and rapid progression. 
  5. The adaptation section only covers planning, and does not also guarantee sufficient matching support for necessary adaptation action for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, particularly the LDCs. 
  6. The issue of loss and damage is recognised in a stand-alone article of the draft agreement, but it is very weak. For example, it does not give the option of establishing the international mechanism to address loss and damage in the agreement.  
  7. The draft text on finance uses 'soft' language (parties should "strive to", for example). There are no firm commitments to new, additional, adequate, predictable and sustainable public climate finance flows that will be regularly scaled-up for developing countries. This section must be strengthened in order to give assurances to developing countries that the action they need to take to address climate change in their countries will be supported through the Paris Agreement. LDCs want the Least Developed Countries Fund to be captured in the agreement.
  8. There must also be guaranteed support for technology development and transfer to meet the needs of developing countries, particularly of LDCs. Institutions such as the Technology Executive Committee must be anchored in the agreement.
  9. There must be reference to implementation and support for capacity building with an international body to address the capacity building needs of the developing countries.  
  10. The agreement must establish an enhanced and robust transparency and accountability system in order to ensure all the actions taken and support given are done in a transparent and accountable manner. Developing countries, in particular the LDCs, will need the guarantee that they will be supported to engage in such a transparency system. 
  11. The agreement must establish a compliance mechanism in order to prevent non-compliance and enforce and facilitate commitments.

Four next possible steps

The co-chairs took a bold step to reduce the previously unmanageable negotiating text to the current text, which is short and concise. Yet the attempt for brevity and conciseness has compromised many important elements that must be in the Paris outcome. 

Therefore the first step this week will be to bring back the 'must-have items' in a revised version of the document in order to serve the document to be the point of departure of textual negotiations of this week.

The second step would be to immediately start negotiations. The third step would be to do regular stocktake meetings to assess the progress made during the week. The fourth step would be to produce another iteration of the negotiating text at the end of the week.  

In the process, parties must use the time available for this session effectively and meaningfully in a disciplined and a constructive manner. Every party understands that time is extremely crucial in this process. 

Achala C Abeysinghe (achala.abeysinghe@iied.org) is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change Group, and an expert on legal issues in international climate change negotiations. She is currently legal and technical adviser to the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group for the UNFCCC.

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